School Policies: Helping Some While Hurting Others?

School Policies: Helping Some While Hurting Others?

StudentsPopular school policies and practices that can help some students excel might have the opposite effect on others, Northwestern University researchers David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik wrote in the Brookings series Evidence Speaks.

Figlio and Karbownik utilized a remarkable multi-year survey co-created by Figlio that questioned school leaders about their use of a range of policies, including the use of monetary rewards, block scheduling, summer and Saturday school, multi-age classrooms and more.

By merging the survey data with the children’s school records and birth certificates, the researchers discovered policies and practices that might be successful overall could actually help one group of students while harming another.

In seven of 12 cases, the policy or practice was associated with a different fifth-grade test score for advantaged students versus disadvantaged students.

For example, sponsoring Saturday school may help disadvantaged students do better on tests, but it could also hurt the performance of the advantaged students at the same school.

Though the researchers weren’t estimating causal effects of these policies per se, the data suggests schools could do a better job helping students succeed by investigating how the practices are affecting different groups of students.

"IIt can be challenging for a school to achieve high performance for all students – at least with the same set of policies and practices,” said Figlio, dean of the School of Education and Social Policy and Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy. “We should carefully evaluate policies and practices to see whether they are benefiting all, some or no students --and whom they are benefitting.”

Karbownik is a research associate at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.

Read the full article, “School policies and the success of advantaged and disadvantaged students” in Brookings or in EducationNext.

Brookings' Evidence Speaks is a weekly series of reports and notes by a standing panel of distinguished researchers with a commitment to elevating the role of methodologically rigorous research in the formation of education and social policy.



By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 8/21/18